Thursday, May 30, 2013

Blue Bay Mystery (The Boxcar Children #6) by Gertrude Chandler Warner


How grand it must be to have a rich grandfather to take you on an extended vacation with a private guide to an uninhabited island in the South Seas!

I like that this vacation brought all new, exciting adventures, and that Grandfather went along, too. Plus, we see good old Mike again!

The mystery basically involved the group having some unexpected encounters on the island, and they wondered what it was all about. There was a relatively dramatic twist in this one, I think. It could have been a lot more suspenseful along the lines of the TV series Lost, but Gertrude Chandler Warner manages to keep it pretty low-key. As you might expect, everything comes together very nicely in the end.

I was happy to see the children continue their schoolwork while on vacation, but it seemed awfully quaint that Grandfather was able to procure each of the kid's lessons ahead of time from their respective teachers, and somehow, those lessons came collated in personalized bound books!

Finally, one caveat for those who may be reading this book to younger children: The book does mention cannibals and shark attacks.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)



I was never a big fan of the original Star Trek series, but after watching Star Trek Into Darkness, and knowing that the new series is meant to be an alternate reality of the original series, I decided to watch the original Star Trek movie with Khan.

I really didn't get why Khan and his men didn't wear shirts, and it just seemed to me that a man with "superior intellect" would simply take Genesis and not waste his time with revenge - as a couple of his people tried to advise him to do. But, it did make for an interesting plot, and I loved Spock's big scene at the end. The ending made the whole movie, and if I didn't already know that Spock lives a long and prosperous life, I would be pretty darn upset!

Seeing a young Kirstie Alley was fun, too!

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)



Action-packed right from the start! A fun movie with plenty of nods to the original. Unfortunately, while I was aware that homage was being paid, I'm not actually a fan of the original, and so I don't think I was able to fully appreciate the references. Still, I think I must give extra credit to this new release for actually making me want to go back and watch one of the original movies that I've never seen. :P

Incidentally, Ken correctly predicted two major plot points!

Update: Okay, I just watched the original Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and now I understand even more how the new movie pays tribute to the original! I love the Kirk-Spock role reversal at the end, and the re-use of dialogue. I'm changing my star rating from 4 to 4 1/2 stars. I couldn't bring myself to give it 5 stars because the movie wasn't amazing by itself; I had to put it into context with the original to fully appreciate it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Mystery Behind the Wall (The Boxcar Children #17) by Gertrude Chandler Warner


A pleasant and plausible mystery, but a bit too reminiscent of Tree House Mystery.

First, just like in Tree House Mystery, Benny gets a new playmate. This time, the introduction is somewhat convoluted in that it is Mrs. McGregor's sister's neighbor, Rory, who visits. Rory is Canadian, and this book is practically worth reading just for the references to his Canadian accent. First, Grandfather reminds the children, "You must remember that the boy comes from Canada and he will not talk exactly the way we do." Then, Rory remarks to Benny that he (Benny) talks funny, "You say 'about the house,' and I say 'aboot the hoose.'" Hee hee.

Second, the mystery itself was also similar to the mystery in Tree House Mystery. The original owners of a house apparently left things behind with the idea that they might one day return. The current owners stumble upon these objects and want to put all the pieces together to understand the context of what they've found.

I liked the ending, and I liked the way the clues were laid out like a treasure hunt. As a reader, I could follow along and solve the mystery just before the children figured it out.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tree House Mystery (The Boxcar Children #14) by Gertrude Chandler Warner


*** WARNING: This review contains spoilers!!! ***

I really enjoyed this one! There was so much that I liked about this book.

I liked the introduction of Jeffrey and Sammy Beach, and I liked that they - like Mike - were different from the Alden children, yet they still all got along.

As a parent who likes to see positive role models in books, I liked how the Alden children kept reminding the Beach boys that they should ask for their parents' permission before doing new things. :P I also liked that they were sensitive to not wanting to intrude where they might not be wanted.

I even liked that Henry and Jessie sometimes had other plans, and weren't a part of all the activities. This book wasn't explicit about the children's ages, but Benny did say, at first, that he wished the Beach boys (aged 8 and 10) were older, which I think implied that Benny was older than they, so maybe he was 12? That would put Henry in his early 20's, and maybe he and Jessie were both in college, home for summer vacation!? I don't know, but it was kind of reassuring to see that they did sometimes have better things to do than play with little kids all the time.

I thought the mystery was just mysterious enough for a children's book - nothing criminal, and not too far-fetched.

And even though this book had an almost obligatory food business overnight success story a la Mike's Mother's Place and Benny's Buns, it was nice that someone besides Benny came up with the winning ideas.

Despite being such a pleasant read, I just couldn't bring myself to give this book 5 stars. I was really hoping that the book would tie up one sort of loose end and somehow reunite a grown-up Willy with his rocking horse.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mike's Mystery (The Boxcar Children #5) by Gertrude Chandler Warner


*** Warning: This review contains spoilers! ***

I really liked this book! I liked having a more realistic personality like Mike mixing things up with the always well-behaved, always polite and proper Alden children. Mike keeps it real.

Also, once again, we have a real mystery on our hands, which was interesting. This time, it's a case of arson. The kids - but mostly Benny - get into trying to solve the case, but in the end, the uncovering of important clues was more a random discovery than the result of any intellectual efforts. But I guess that's okay with me, because the idea that these kids would be able to solve a case that the FBI can't is a little far-fetched, so it's nice that a little luck came their way.

It seemed kind of odd, though, that the bad guy's motivation boiled down to revenge for not having been able to pull off a scam in the past. Seems like in real life, the bad guy would just move on and not obsess over this one missed opportunity.

It was also kind of over the top the way Mike's Mother's Place just came together so quickly, and it was a bit too reminiscent of the overnight success of Benny's Buns in Snowbound Mystery.

I thought of giving this book 3 1/2 stars, but I finally went with 4 stars because I actually just really enjoyed reading it, I think because of Mike.

Finally, one last thought. It is just me, or is there something between Mr. Carter and Jessie?! He's kind of old for her now, but maybe in a few years... !

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Yellow House Mystery (The Boxcar Children #3) by Gertrude Chandler Warner


*** Warning: This review contains spoilers! ***

Well, I appreciated the fact that in this book, the author explicitly stated the ages of three out of the four children. So far, each book tells of a new summer adventure, and the children seem to age accordingly.

For the first time, there is a true mystery in that there is a missing person case to be solved. Luckily, the decades-old crime scene was left untouched, and the whole Alden family investigates, finds clues, and works together to solve the mystery.

The children again are put in a position of having to be resourceful, this time on a canoe / camping trip. Since they actually don't know much about canoeing or camping in the wilderness, cousin Joe takes charge of the trip, and his new wife Alice joins them as well.

I didn't really enjoy this book quite so much as the others I've read so far, and I'm not sure why. The canoe / camping trip was pretty exciting, in theory, but for some reason, I was kind of bored when actually reading about it.

Also, the resolution of the whole mystery seemed a bit too easy, and at the same time, too convoluted. I liked that the kids discovered an important clue in the yellow house that the police missed years ago, but in the end, it seemed like that clue shouldn't even have been necessary. The clue led the family to a particular hiking trail in Maine, and along the way, they asked whoever they ran into whether or not they knew anything about Bill McGregor. But inexplicably, when they met Jim at the end of the trail, they neglected to ask him about Bill. If they had, they would have found out right away that "people used to say that little house was Bill McGregor's place. Then one day Dave Hunter came to Old Village and said it was his." Dave Hunter would have been the obvious person to follow up with. And if "people" knew that Bill McGregor owned that house in Maine - surely Mrs. McGregor must have known about it and could have directed the investigation there - then the original police searching for Bill, regardless of what was or was not found in the house on Surprise Island, should have investigated the house in Maine, where they would have learned about Dave Hunter!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ten Years Later (The d'Artagnan Romances #4) by Alexandre Dumas


First, a recap. I am reading the D'Artagnan Romances via the FREE Kindle ebooks available on Amazon:

Book 1: The Three Musketeers
Book 2: Twenty Years After
Book 3a: The Vicomte de Bragelonne
Book 3b: Ten Years Later
Book 3c: Louise de la Vallière
Book 3d: The Man in the Iron Mask

Ten Years Later actually refers to the ten years in between Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne, so really, I think the titles of Books 3a and 3b should have been swapped. While the Vicomte still is not consistently a central character throughout this book, he certainly plays a much bigger role here than in the book that was named after him.

About three-quarters of the way through this book, I lost all my notes, so my review is going to be shorter than I had originally intended... That's probably for the better, actually, since sometimes I think my reviews are too long anyway.

D'Artagnan and Athos make a couple brief appearances in this book, but mostly they are absent. Porthos is practically non-existent. Aramis is the key musketeer in this book, and chapters about him appear intermittently. Mostly they are setting the stage for The Man in the Iron Mask - which I only know from watching the Leonardo DiCaprio movie years ago. Surprisingly, the movie seems to have sufficiently equipped me to understand Aramis's secrets, and honestly, I think if I did not already know where the Aramis storyline is leading, I would be awfully confused about his doings in this book.

So, if this book isn't really about the musketeers, then what's it all about? Like a Jane Austen novel, this book is mostly about the love interests of "the young people". Our beloved musketeers, along with Anne of Austria, play supporting roles for the next generation - the Vicomte de Bragelonne and King Louis XIV, among others. Relationships are complicated by multiple love triangles, and there's a whole lot of drama going on at the court.

I found this book entertaining enough to keep up with it, but not especially compelling. It was easy to put it down and not pick it up again for days at a time.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Surprise Island (The Boxcar Children #2) by Gertrude Chandler Warner


*** Warning: This review contains spoilers! ***

I am really loving this series!

This book has all four children equally represented, and I feel we do get to know them a little better. I probably should not have read any of the books out of order; this being the second in the series, it makes sense that this book would have more character development than some of the later books, when the kids are already established characters. Here, we learn that Violet is artistic (she likes to paint and she has a gift for music), Jessie really is a great cook (she makes clam chowder and whips up an apple pie) and likes order (she likes to plan out their days and keep to a schedule), and Henry is quite handy (he builds cabinets and tables out of scrap wood) and has an interest in academia (he likes museums). True, they all stick pretty close to age and gender roles... But that's okay, the book was written in 1949 after all. (Another detail that dates this book is an illustration in which the kids are boating without life jackets!)

But what I really liked - and this was a major reason for giving the book 4 1/2 stars instead of 4 - is that Benny actually throws a tantrum in this book! Finally! The kids are not all super well-behaved all the time! Haha. Maybe it was nice, too, that it was clear that Benny's fit was not a result of his being "bad", but more of just an age-related issue; Henry said, "He will stop some time. Some day he'll grow up." If only I could be so matter-of-fact about my kids' tantrums!

There was also another child character, a friend of Benny's named Mike, who was loud and obnoxious. Benny liked him because they had fun together, but the older kids didn't think he was so great to have around. Even though the Alden kids are almost perfect, it was still nice to see that other less-than-perfect kids also lived in their world. :P

I also liked that this book finally made me understand why people always run out to buy bread and milk before a big storm. It probably stems from the old days, depicted in these books, when bread and milk really were food staples. Whole meals could be had by just eating bread with milk poured on top! As Jessie said, "We have to buy bread and bottles of milk. Then we could live, even if we didn't have anything else to eat."

As usual, the kids are models of resourcefulness. Besides the bread and milk, they eat food they gather themselves - though it helped that Grandfather started a vegetable garden for them in anticipation of their stay. Still, even though Grandfather is rich and the kids basically get whatever they want, they love taking care of themselves in the barn on the island! I love their attitude, summed up when Jessie said, "This is what I like. Everything seems better when we have to work to get it."

I have to admit, I didn't give this book 5 stars because the whole story about Joe was just a little contrived. I liked the ending, of course, but really, why didn't he just go back to his uncle as soon as he could?! The idea of not returning until he was 100% recovered seemed to put a bit too much emphasis on independence, which perhaps was a highly valued quality in individuals in 1949.

It was interesting, too, that this book didn't actually use the word "mystery" - Joe's unknown origin was just like a question always hanging around in the background. I wonder if the author sort of just found herself falling into writing "mysteries" simply because having unanswered questions helped to keep a story interesting.